Argo AI is investing $15 million into a self-driving car research center at CMU

Argo AI will invest $15 million over five years to create a center for autonomous vehicle research at Carnegie Mellon University, one of the latest efforts by the Ford-backed company to accelerate the development of self-driving cars.

The center, Carnegie Mellon University Argo AI Center for Autonomous Vehicle Research, will focus on advanced perception and decision-making algorithms for autonomous vehicles, the company said Monday.

The investment follows the introduction of Argoverse, a set of curated data and high-definition maps that Argo AI released for free to researchers. Argoverse was created to give academic researchers the ability to study the impact that HD maps have on perception and forecasting, such as identifying and tracking objects on the road, and predicting where those objects will move seconds into the future.

Argo sees Argoverse and now this research lab as ways to encourage more research and hopefully breakthroughs in autonomous vehicle technology.

“We are thrilled to deepen our partnership with Argo AI to shape the future of self-driving technologies,” CMU President Farnam Jahanian said in a statement. “This investment allows our researchers to continue to lead at the nexus of technology and society, and to solve society’s most pressing problems. Together, Argo AI and CMU will accelerate critical research in autonomous vehicles while building on the momentum of CMU’s culture of innovation.”

Argo’s investment in CMU makes sense. Argo’s headquarters aren’t far from CMU. And the university is known for its robotics program. There’s also a personal connection.

Argo was founded by a team with deep CMU roots. Co-founder and president Peter Rander earned his masters and PhD degrees at CMU. Rander and Argo AI CEO Bryan Salesky worked together for years at National Robotics Engineering Center, a unit within Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute.

Rander left and became the engineering lead at Uber ATG and Salesky went over to the Google self-driving project, now called Waymo. They left their respective jobs to form Argo in 2016.

This isn’t the first autonomous vehicle company to see potential in CMU.

In 2015, Uber announced a strategic partnership with CMU that included the creation of a research lab near campus aimed at kick starting autonomous vehicle development. But that relationship ended up gutting CMU’s own robotics lab known as as the National Robotics Engineering Center. Before the year was up, dozens of people, including the NREC’s director, had left to work at the Uber Advanced Technologies Center.

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